Erik Friedlander – “Claws & Wings”


Erik Friedlander - "Claws & Wings"Cellist Erik Friedlander has garnered several mentions in 2013, both on this site and in my weekly eMusic Jazz Picks column.  Most notably (to my mind, at least) is his contribution to Emilio Teubal’s Música Para un Dragon Dormido, especially on the two album tracks “El Acrobata” and “Un Dragon Dormido,” in which Friedlander’s presence is immensely delicate and evocative both.  There was his performance on Allison Miller’s No Morphine, No Lilies, in which he displayed no difficulty adopting Miller’s unconventional balance of hard-edged post-bop and fuzzy-warm indie-jazz pop characteristics.  Also, still, his cello on Francesco Cataldo’s Spaces had plenty of openings to express itself on the album’s meditative interludes.

And that’s just from this year.  Friedlander has also been a part of some wonderful music via his collaboration with John Zorn projects like Book of Angels & Filmworks, his work with Marty Ehrlich, Julius Hemphill, Tim Berne, and Ellery Eskelin, and a nifty guest spot on Vinicius Cantuaria’s under-the-radar gem Tucuma.  And that’s nowhere close to encapsulating his work.

I mention this all by way of introduction to a musician whose name you may not be familiar with, but who has been an essential part of the music you read about here on this site and elsewhere, who may not ever be a part of the spotlight but is a big reason it’s there in the first place.

Friedlander has recorded a handful of albums under his own name.  His newest is titled Claws & Wings.  This is introspective music, and it originates from a time of great introspection in Friedlander’s life.  Shortly after the death of his wife, who had suffered through a long illness, Friedlander went down from a fluke bicycle accident that made it impossible for him to use his cello for three months.  Laid up, and without the refuge of his creativity to help him through a very difficult time, Friedlander spent that time thinking… thinking about all of the things a person reflects upon when life is drowned in sorrowful moments, at a time of grief.

And then he rehabbed.  And then he picked his cello back up.  And then he began to play again, getting back into life at the same time he worked through his grief.  In effect, he documents that period of time on Claws & Wings.  The music reflects a state of introspection, of pain and also one of beauty.  It sounds very personal, and it sounds that way regardless of whether the listener possesses any knowledge of the music’s context beforehand.  That’s what art can do.  It can communicate so much, even in the vacuum of information.  That happens here.

Your album personnel:  Erik Friedlander (cello), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano, spinet), and Ikue Mori (laptop).

This album has the statuesque beauty of chamber music, the ambient distant warmth of minimalist post-rock, and the wry charm of folk.  This album features Friedlander’s cello, sometimes taking languorous sighs of harmonic brilliance, sometimes prancing lightly from one note to the next, and sometimes swirling about with the unexpected motion of mist on a stormy eve.

Friedlander is joined by pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, who, like Friedlander, has collaborated extensively with John Zorn (and appears on Zorn’s Femina, an album that still gives me chills when I hear it).  On Claws & Wings, she is Friedlander’s counterbalance.  She matches Friedlander’s sonorous expressions with a crisp driving cadence and icy piano lines.  When Friedlander’s cello adopts a feisty attitude, Courvoisier offers up quavering notes that coalesce into a thin blanket approximating a drone.  And when Friedlander’s cello washes over the tune with thick waves of melody, Courvoisier doesn’t express the melody so much as let it glitter from the surface of her chords.  Her use of a spinet on “Reaching Back” matches up against Mori’s space-age effects with an appealing historical classicism.

Ikue Mori adds laptop effects, little blips and beeps, the crackle of water boiling on the surface of metal, the shrieks of seagulls calling out across the lakeshore, the bended notes and warped sounds like light refracted through hanging icicles on a winter afternoon.  There is no clash between Friedlander’s and Courvoisier’s traditional cello and piano and Mori’s post-instrument device… the music develops organically, and their disparate parts fuse into one, as if laptop has been collaborating with cello and piano for centuries.  The music retains a sense of timelessness; the laptop doesn’t date it.  Worth noting that Mori, also, has a John Zorn tie-in… both with the Hemophiliac trio and with Electric Masada.

Just a beautiful album, of wide open spaces filled intermittently with all kinds of fascinating details.  It’s expansive music nesting in a very tiny area.

The album is Self-Produced.

Music from NYC.

Available at:  Bandcamp CD/Digital | eMusic MP3 | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3